Friday 30 April 2021


BOOKS @ VOLUME #227 (30.4.21)

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 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 

The Writing of the Disaster by Maurice Blanchot   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“The disaster ruins everything, all the while leaving everything intact.” The Writing of the Disaster concerns the effect upon language, upon literature, so to call it, of what Blanchot, thinking particularly of the Holocaust, calls the Disaster: something beyond the reach of language yet sucking language towards it to the ultimate nullification of the meaning that language is usually thought to bear. The disaster does not concern itself with content, the disaster possesses the writing and is not and cannot be the subject of the writing. The writing of the disaster is not so much writing about the disaster as writing in the force-field of the disaster: The Writing of the Disaster concerns itself with the ways in which trauma takes ownership of writing. The ‘of’ in the title signals possession in the same way, perhaps, that all objects possess their subjects and by this relationship contend with them for agency. The disaster is a grammatical phenomenon, a loss of agency through grammar, a relation between elements rather than an element itself. Blanchot is remarkable for identifying the shifts of agency that result from grammatical alteration. It is in grammar, perhaps, that our problems lie, and it is in grammar, perhaps, that we must agitate for their solution. But it is in the nature of the disaster to protect itself with our passivity. “We are passive with respect to the disaster, but the disaster is perhaps passivity.” The disaster robs the writer of agency, cauterises meaning, averts all gazes and renders the usual useless. As Blanchot demonstrates, writing in the ambit of the disaster can only proceed in fragments. Failure and incompletion are both results of and assaults upon the impossible. “It is not you who will speak; let the disaster speak in you, even if it be by your forgetfulness or silence.” When writing of the reading of the writing of the disaster, the semantic degeneration of the disaster exercises itself even through the intervening writer, rendering them transparent. To re-read a passage of Blanchot is to read without recognition, to entertain thoughts quite different from, and rightly quite different from, those entertained on the first reading, or prior readings, of that passage. Thinking about reading about Blanchot writing about how the disaster affects everything but cannot be perceived, I write, “The disaster is that no distinction can be made between disaster and the absence of disaster,” but I cannot determine where this sentence comes from. I cannot find it in Blanchot's text. Whose thoughts are those thoughts thought when reading? If the thoughts cannot be located in the text, are they then the thoughts of the reader? If the thoughts would not have been thought by the reader without the text, to what extent are they the writer’s thoughts? (Do not ask if these thoughts are in fact thoughts. Let us call thought that which does the work of thought, regardless.) Blanchot proceeds around, or towards, the disaster in a fragmentary style, aphoristic but without the sense of completion aphorisms provide, he writes koans, or antikoans, that do not prepare the mind for enlightenment so much as relieve the mind of the possibility of, and even the concept of, enlightenment. Taken in small doses Blanchot is full of meaning but as the dose increases the meaning becomes less, until at the point of his complete oeuvre, we can extrapolate, Blanchot means nothing at all. This liberation from semantic burden is entirely in accord with Blanchot’s project, so to call it. 


>> Read all Stella's reviews.

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu  {Reviewed by STELLA}
All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; / They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” —William Shakespeare (As You Like It)
While Shakespeare went on to describe the seven stages of man, Charles Yu takes a slightly different trajectory. The stage is America, more specifically Chinatown. The players are the actors in a typical cop show (ironically titled Black and White) and the residents of the SRO (Single Room Occupancy) housing apartment. And our main man is Willis Wu, son of Taiwanese immigrants, working his way up the ladder. Seven stages — a countdown from five to one (Background Oriental Male, Dead Asian Man, Generic Asian Man Number Three/Delivery Guy, Generic Asian Man Number Two/Waiter, Generic Asian Man Number One), and then, if you are lucky, very lucky — Very Special Guest Star, and for the few, the ultimate role — Kung Fu Guy. Interior Chinatown, Yu’s fourth book, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2020, uses a television series script as the structural device to look into the real lives of Asian Americans and the stereotypes that ring-fence them as ‘other’. As in Yu’s early books (his short story collection from 2006, Third Class Superhero, is endlessly memorable), he uses clever set-ups and sardonic wit to take you on an entertaining journey that is actually filled with frustration, sadness and, in the case of Interior Chinatown, a searing elucidation of racism. Willis Wu is an actor, hoping for the big time — a chance to become Kung Fu Guy. He’s the ‘Asian’ in the GTV series Black and White (featuring Turner — the tough smart Black cop, and Green — the sassy sharpshooting (from the lip as much as the hip) White female cop) — starting as Background Guy but also next up a corpse. After being a corpse, he has to take a "rest time". No-one will notice when he comes back as a new guy — after all, he is Generic Asian Man. He gets his real breakthrough when his character becomes integral to solving a crime in Chinatown. “It’s a cultural thing,” Green lets Black know. Yet as Willis moves up the ranks he finds himself disenchanted by his (and everyone else who lives in the SRO) obsession, from childhood (all that practice!), with becoming Kung Fu Guy. This could have been just a silly and entertaining story about a TV script, but this is where Yu does something very clever — he moves us between reality and fiction, mingling Willis’s life on the screen with his life (and those of his family and community) as an Asian man in America. The backstories of his parents and their arrival in America alongside the acting careers (are they workers in the Chinese restaurant downstairs or actors in the TV series working in the Golden Palace — or a bit of both?), the lives of the residents of the SRO, sometimes they are suffering the heat, the bad piping and cramped quarters while at other times they a bit part actors on the screen, the story of Willis meeting his wife-to-be through their acting roles, art imitating life and vice versa. Plenty of meta-narrative playfully executed and effectively used to grapple with the issues Charles Yu is exploring, along with his own personal histories. What does it take to be seen as American? Why are the stereotypes so entrenched? And how can Willis Wu find out who he really is in a society with rigid expectations of “Generic Asian Man”? Immensely enjoyable, unflinching in its assessment of racism and endlessly memorable. 


Our Book of the Week was awarded the 2020 US National Book Award for Fiction for being immensely enjoyable, sharply written, and unflinching in its assessment of contemporary racism. Charles Yu's novel Interior Chinatown explores race, pop culture, immigration, assimilation, and escaping the roles we are forced to play, as Willis Wu strives to be something more than 'Generic Asian Man'—but what? Can Willis become the protagonist in his own life? A heartfelt, playful satire of Hollywood tropes and Asian American stereotypes. 
>>Read Stella's review
>>"Wills is a background Asian."
>>Yu reads from the novel
>>Satire, metafiction, and anti-racist critique
>>The multiple dimensions of Charles Yu. 
>>Taking on Hollywood's Asian tropes
>>Weird fiction as a political tool
>>On form and research.  
>>Not just black and white. 
>>Roles vs identities
>>Readers' questions
>>Explore the author's website. 
>>Conversations from the shadow lands
>>Therapy and storytelling
>>Order your copy now
>>Books by Charles Yu. 


Fifty Sounds by Polly Barton            $38
Polly Barton reflects on her experience of moving to the Japanese island of Sado at the age of twenty-one and on her journey to becoming a literary translator. Written in fifty semi-discrete entries, Fifty Sounds is a personal dictionary of the Japanese language that draws together a variety of cultural reflections — from conformity and being an outsider, to the gendering of Japanese society, and attitudes towards food and the cult of 'deliciousness' — alongside insights into the transformative powers of language-learning. 
>>Uwaa: the sound of the feeling that cannot be spoken
>>Connection fever

Permafrost by Eva Baltasar (translated by Julia Sanchez)         $34
Permafrost's no-bullshit lesbian narrator is an uninhibited lover and a wickedly funny observer of modern life. Desperate to get out of Barcelona, she goes to Brussels, 'because a city whose symbol is a little boy pissing was a city I knew I would like'; as an au pair in Scotland, she develops a hatred of the color green. And everywhere she goes, she tries to break out of the roles set for her by family and society, chasing escape wherever it can be found: love affairs, travel, thoughts of suicide.
"Permafrost is a discomfiting book about a sensual intoxication with life that just barely contains the desire for it to be over and done with forever. Like a perfect song, Eva Baltasar's words, as translated by Julia Sanches, have a sheen and inevitability that I won't soon forget. It held me in a trance." —Catherine Lacey
"Reading Eva Baltasar's Permafrost is like having a rug continuously pulled out from under you until finally the rug disappears. How can a novel that orbits suicide be so surprising, so intensely liberating and funny, and at the same time, so full of grief? That is its genius." —Amina Cain
A Perfect Cemetery by Federico Falco (translated by Jennifer Croft)          $34
Childhood does not last long in the Argentine mountains of Córdoba, and adult lives fall apart quickly. In disarming, darkly humorous stories, Federico Falco explores themes of obsessive love, romantic attachment and the strategies we must find to cope with death and painful longing.
"His stories shimmer like revelations - the clarity, mystery, beauty, depth, and sheer, thrilling peculiarity of ordinary life when the veil lifts. They're exhilarating to read, just as exhilarating to re-read." —Deborah Eisenberg
>>Read the title story
>>Landscapes, hermits and storytelling
The Field by Robert Seethaler          $38
If the dead could speak, what would they say to the living? From their graves in Paulstadt's cemetery, the town's late inhabitants tell stories. Some recall just a moment — perhaps the one in which they left this world, perhaps the one they now realize shaped their life forever. Some remember all the people they've been with, or the only person they ever loved. This chorus of voices — young, old, rich, poor — builds a picture of a community, as viewed from below ground. The streets of the small provincial town are given shape and meaning by those who lived, loved, worked, mourned, and died there. From the author of A Whole Life
The Mayor of Leipzig by Rachel Kushner          $40
An acidic portrait of the grifters and pretenders of the art world, from the celebrated author of The Mars Room. In Rachel Kushner's novella an unnamed artist recounts her travels from New York City to Cologne—where she contemplates German guilt and art-world grifters, and Leipzig—where she encounters live 'adult entertainment' in a business hotel. The narrator gossips about everyone, including the author. 

In Concrete by Anne Garréta (translated by Emma Ramadan)              $36
Mania descends upon a family when the father finds himself in possession of a concrete mixer. As he seeks to upgrade every aspect of their lives, disaster strikes when the younger sibling is subsumed by concrete. Through puns, wordplay, and dizzying verbal effect, Garréta reinvents the novel form and blurs the line between spoken and written language in an attempt to confront the elasticity of communication.
“Garréta and Ramadan continue to redefine the limits of language—these are not words to read but words to bite, chew, choke on.  Consuming In Concrete, with all its pleasures and surprises, feels like learning a new game, ruled by Garréta's definitive and mystifying blend of folklore and testimony.” — Kyle Alderdice
Alligator by Dima Alzayat           $38
Alzayat captures luminously how it feels to be ‘other’: as a Syrian, as an Arab, as an immigrant, as a woman. Each one of the nine stories collected here is a snapshot of those moments when unusual circumstances suddenly distinguish us from our neighbours, when our difference is thrown into relief. Here are ‘dangerous’ women transgressing, missing children in 1970s New York, a family who were once Syrian but have now lost their name, and a young woman about to discover the hollowness of the American dream. At its centre lies ‘Alligator’: a remarkable compilation of real and invented sources, which rescues from history the story of a Syrian American couple who were murdered at the hands of the state.

Across the Board: The mathematics of chessboard problems by John J. Watkins          $40
The definitive work on chessboard problems. It is not simply about chess but the chessboard itself. And, more importantly, the fascinating mathematics behind it. From the Knight's Tour Problem and Queens Domination to their many variations, John Watkins surveys all the well-known problems in this surprisingly fertile area of recreational mathematics. Can a knight follow a path that covers every square once, ending on the starting square? How many queens are needed so that every square is targeted or occupied by one of the queens? Each main topic is treated in depth from its historical conception through to its status today. 
Around the World in 80 Plants by Jonathan Drori and Lucille Clerc       $45
 In his follow-up to the equally fascinating and beautiful Around the World in 80 Trees, Jonathan Drori takes another trip across the globe, bringing to life the science of plants by revealing how their worlds are intricately entwined with our own history, culture and folklore. From the seemingly familiar tomato and dandelion to the eerie mandrake and Spanish 'moss' of Louisiana, each of these stories is full of surprises. Some have a troubling past, while others have ignited human creativity or enabled whole civilisations to flourish.

The Line by Niall Bourke            $38
In the Line the dead still have a say, and their say counts for double. It’s a necrocracy and so everyone left alive walks into tomorrow facing backwards. Willard, his mother, and his girlfriend Nyla have spent their entire lives in an endless procession, where daily survival is dictated by the ultimate imperative: obey the rules, or lose your place in the Line. Everything changes the day Willard’s mother dies and he finds a book hidden among her few belongings.
"An enthralling work of high imagination and storytelling flair." —Donal Ryan
"Line is an extraordinary novel – gripping, unsettling, brilliant." —Roddy Doyle
"A powerful, discomfiting fable of uncertainty and failure, poetically crafted, politically pointed. From the brass tacks of language we construct to make ourselves feel stable, to the artifice of routine built from obligation, Line is a Ballardian take on the near-now that shows us how fleeting our idea of absoluteness really is." —June Caldwell
"Line is a modern parable of the most ambitious kind. A Grapes of Wrath for the age of digital capitalism. Niall Bourke writes with passionate urgency and skilful clarity." —Rónán Hession
Empire of Pain: The secret history of the Sackler dynasty by Patrick Radden Keefe             $40
The Sackler name adorns the walls of many storied institutions — Harvard, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Oxford, the Louvre. They are one of the richest families in the world, known for their lavish donations in the arts and the sciences. The source of the family fortune was vague, however, until it emerged that the Sacklers were responsible for making and marketing Oxycontin, a blockbuster painkiller that was a catalyst for the opioid crisis-an international epidemic of drug addiction which has killed nearly half a million people.
The Light of Days: Women fighters of the Jewish resistance by Judy Batalion            $35
The "ghetto girls" paid off Gestapo guards, hid revolvers in loaves of bread and jars of marmalade, helped build systems of underground bunkers. They flirted with Nazis, bought them off with wine, whiskey and home cooking, and shot and killed them. They helped the sick and taught the kids, they bombed German train lines and blew up Vilna's water supply.

There Must Be More than That! by Shinsuke Yoshitake           $38
What does the future hold? This question can be daunting—or delightfully promising. Shinsuke Yoshitake's picture books are a delightful introduction to philosophy, perfectly pitched to young children. 
The Sleeping Beauties, And other stories of mystery illness by Suzanne O'Sullivan          $40
In Sweden, refugee children fall asleep for months and years at a time. In upstate New York, high school students develop contagious seizures. In the US Embassy in Cuba, employees complain of headaches and memory loss after hearing strange noises in the night. These disparate cases are some of the most remarkable diagnostic mysteries of the twenty-first century, as both doctors and scientists have struggled to explain them within the boundaries of medical science and - more crucially - to treat them. What unites them is that they are all examples of a particular type of psychosomatic illness: medical disorders that are influenced as much by the idiosyncratic aspects of individual cultures as they are by human biology.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour             $38
An unambitious twenty-two-year-old, Darren lives in a Brooklyn brownstone with his mother, who wants nothing more than to see him live up to his potential. But Darren is content working at Starbucks in the lobby of a Manhattan office building, hanging out with his girlfriend, Soraya, and eating his mother's home-cooked meals. All that changes when a chance encounter with Rhett Daniels, the silver-tongued CEO of Sumwun, NYC's hottest tech startup, results in an exclusive invitation for Darren to join an elite sales team on the thirty-sixth floor. After enduring a "hell week" of training, Darren, the only Black person in the company, reimagines himself as 'Buck', a ruthless salesman unrecognizable to his friends and family. But when things turn tragic at home and Buck feels he's hit rock bottom, he begins to hatch a plan to help young people of color infiltrate America's sales force, setting off a chain of events that forever changes the game.
"Askaripour closes the deal on the first page of this mesmerizing novel, executing a high wire act full of verve and dark, comic energy." —Colson Whitehead
The End of the World is a Cul de Sac by Louise Kennedy            $33
A wife is abandoned by her new husband in a ghost estate, with blood on her hands; a young woman is tormented by visions of the man murdered by her brother during the Troubles; a pregnant mother fears the worst as her husband grows illegal cannabis with the help of a vulnerable teenage girl; a woman struggles to forgive herself after an abortion threatens to destroy her marriage. Ireland's folklore and politics loom large in these short stories. 
Bees and their Keepers by Lotte Möller            $45
A beautifully illustrated surbey of the cultural history of bees and beekeeping. In her travels Möller encounters a trigger-happy Californian beekeeper raging against both killer bees and bee politics, warring beekeepers on the Danish island of Læso, and Brother Adam of Buckfast Abbey, breeder of the Buckfast queen now popular throughout Europe and beyond, as well a host of others as passionate as she about the complex world of apiculture both past and present.

What Abigail Did That Summer (A 'Rivers of London' novella) by Ben Aaronovitch              $30
It is the summer of 2013 and Abigail Kamara has been left to her own devices. This might, by those who know her, be considered a mistake. While her cousin, police constable and apprentice wizard Peter Grant, is off in the sticks, chasing unicorns, Abigail is chasing her own mystery. Teenagers around Hampstead Heath have been going missing but before the police can get fully engaged, the teens return home—unharmed but vague about where they've been. Aided only by her new friend, Simon, her knowledge that magic is real and a posse of talking foxes that think they're spies, Abigail must venture into the wilds of Hampstead to discover who is luring the teenagers and more importantly—why?
The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen             $30
Turtle really likes standing in his favourite spot. He likes it so much that he asks his friend Armadillo to come over and stand in it, too. But now that Armadillo is standing in that spot, he has a bad feeling about it... A hilarious meditation on the workings of friendship, fate, shared futuristic visions, and that funny feeling you get that there’s something off somewhere, but you just can’t put your finger on it. 

Saturday 24 April 2021

 BOOKS @ VOLUME #226 (23.4.21)

Whether you're interested in new books or book news, you'll find both in our latest newsletter. 

Friday 23 April 2021


>> Read all Stella's reviews.


First Person Singular by Haruki Murakami    {Reviewed by STELLA}
Where does a writer go and where do they want to take us? In Murakami’s new collection of short stories, First Person Singular, the writer is teasing at the edges, walking us into situations that at first glance seem banal, then become unsettling, sometimes a little bizarre. This will be nothing new for Murakami readers—the pace of the unfolding tale and the direct, simple style with its surprising outcome and underlying pathos are all familiar tropes. In this collection Murakami is also talking to himself, reminiscing and sharing his passions. Music, jazz and classical, comes to the fore in several. 'Cream', the opening story, has a young man on the way to a piano recital by a young woman he barely knows (an ex-fellow student who he had let down by being a tardy musician), only to find himself sitting alone in a small park having a conversation with an elderly man. He has either been duped in an act of revenge or mistaken by date and time. Either way, he is somewhat flustered by the whole experience, left clutching a cheap bouquet of red flowers with little idea of why he went in the first place. In classic Murakami style, the book opens with this deceptively dull story. Later, thinking about it, your focus comes back to the elderly man—is this a future self giving advice or a chance encounter that will change the young man’s trajectory? Or maybe encounters like this don’t encompass as much as we would like them to? In 'Charlie Parker Plays Bossa Nova', Murakami is at his most playful, enjoying his obsession with jazz and playfully imaging and reimaging a role for The Bird beyond the grave. When Charlie Parker visits the narrator in a dream sequence Murakami segues into his style of magical realism which leaves the reader in no doubt that the character is playing out an internal conversation, while at the same time being convincingly ‘realistic' or believable. If you delve a little under this story, and others in the collection, it is obvious that Murakami is also thinking about the process of creativity, of writing. There are raw edges here too, especially those stories that deal with relationships. 'With the Beatles' relays a teen relationship—starting from an oblique point and sharpening into an uneasy story about depression and suicide. It has a lightness of touch that could be seen as almost trivial but underpinning this is the tragedy of being misunderstood or trapped within a moment. Many of the stories have this outwardly simple trajectory and try to relieve themselves of a complex plot cutting to the uneasy situations that arise between people, but more essentially within one’s own psyche. Touted as partly memoir—the narrator is an ageing writer, living in Japan, who loves baseball and music—it easily can be read as autofiction. Yet the inclusion of a talking monkey, the ‘ugliest’ woman and a surreal conversation with a dead musician, makes you wonder how much Murakami is inviting his past work and his readers into the world beyond the wall, into the well, and, as he says, into the ‘under basement’. Memoir-ish pieces maybe, but more another realm to explore writing, where it takes us and how far, and how it happens. Simple and complex in equal measure.

“This book about my family is not about my family at all, but about something quite different: the way memory works, and what memory wants from me,” writes Maria Stepanova in this week's Book of the Week, In Memory of Memory. When Stepanova inherits an apartmentful of family letters, photographs, journals and mementos, she tries to make sense of it all and begins to wonder just what it is she wants of the past—and what the past wants of her.
>>Read Thomas's review.
>>Love's labours should be lost.
>>The altar of oblivion
>>Sex and the Dead
>>Telling the story of people who didn't want to be noticed
>>Maria Stepanova and translator Sasha Dugdale discuss and read from the book
>>Everything rhymes
>>A writer shakes her family tree
>>Poetry as resistance? 
>>On Russia's current obsession with the past
>>"Mad Russia hurt me into poetry."
>>Stepanova founded Colta
>>Find out more about the translator, the poet Sasha Dugdale. 
>>The book has just been shortlisted for the 2021 International Booker Prize
>>Your copy.
>>War of the Beasts and the Animals
>>The Voice Over. 


 >> Read all Thomas's reviews. 


In Memory of Memory by Maria Stepanova   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
The past gets bigger every day, he realised, every day the past gets a day bigger, but the present never gets any bigger, if it has a size at all it stays the same size, every day the present is more overwhelmed by the past, every moment in fact the present more overwhelmed by the past. Perhaps that should be longer rather than bigger, he thought, same difference, he thought, not making sense but you know what I mean, he thought, the present has no duration but the duration of the past swells with every moment, pushing at us, pushing us forward. Anything that exists is opposed by the fact of its existing to anything that might take its existence away, he wrote, the past is determined to go on existing but it can only do this by hijacking the present, he wrote, by casting itself forward and co-opting the present, or trying to, by clutching at us with objects or images or associations or impressions or with what we could call stories, wordstuff, whatever, harpooning us who live only in the present with what we might call memory, the desperation, so to call it, of that which no longer exists except to whatever degree it attaches itself to us now, the desperation to be remembered, to persist, even long after it has gone. Memory is not something we achieve, he wrote, memory is something that is achieved upon us by the past, by something desperate to exist and go on existing, by something carrying us onwards, if there is such a thing as onwards, something long gone, dead moments, ghosts preserving their agency through objects, images, words, impressions, associations, all that, he wrote, coming to the end of his thought. This book, he thought, Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory, is not really about memory at all in the way we usually understand it, it is not about the way an author might go around recalling experiences she had at some previous point in her life, this book is about the way the past forces itself upon us, the way the past forces itself upon us particularly along the channels of family, of ancestry, of blood, so to call it, pushing us before it in such as way that we cannot say if our participation in this process is in accordance with our will or against it, the distinction in any case makes no sense, he thought, there is only the imperative of all particulars not so much to go on existing, despite what I said earlier, though this is certainly the effect, as to oppose, by the very fact of their particularity, any circumstance that would take that existence away. Everything opposes its own extinction, he thought, even me. That again. But the past is vulnerable, too, which is why memory is desperate, a clutching, the past depends upon us to bear its particularity, and we have become adept at fending it off, at replacing it with the stories we tell ourselves about it. The stories we tell about the past are the way we keep the past at bay, the way we keep ourselves from being overwhelmed by this swelling urgent unrelenting past. “There is too much past, and everyone knows it,” writes Stepanova, “The excess oppresses, the force of the surge crashes against the bulwark of any amount of consciousness, it is beyond control and beyond description. So it is driven between banks, simplified, straightened out, chased still-living into the channels of narrative.” When Stepanova’s aunt dies she inherits an apartment full of objects, photographs, letters, journals, documents, and she sets about defusing the awkwardness of this archive’s demands upon her through the application of the tool with which she has proficiency, her writing. Although she writes the stories of her various ancestors and of her various ancestors’ various descendants, she is aware that “this book about my family is not about my family at all, but about something quite different: the way memory works, and what memory wants from me.” Stepanova’s family is unremarkable from a historical point of view, Russian Jews to whom nothing particularly traumatic happened, notwithstanding the possibilities during the twentieth century for all manner of traumatic things to happen to those such as them, and they were not marked out for fame or glory, either, whatever that means, in any case they had no wish to be noticed. History is composed mainly of ordinariness, the non-dramatic predominates, he thought, although there may be notable crises pressing on these particular people, Stepanova’s family for example but the same is true for most people, these notable crises do not actually happen to these particular people. Do not equals did not. The past, as the present, he wrote, was undoubtedly mundane for most people most of the time, and yet they still went on existing, at least resisting their extinction in the most banal of fashions. Is this conveyed in history, though, family or otherwise, he wondered, how does the repetitive uneventfulness of everyday life in the past press upon the present, if at all? Can we appreciate any particularity in the mundanity of the past, he wondered, are we not like the tiny porcelain dolls, the ‘Frozen Charlottes’ that Stepanova collects, produced in vast numbers, flushed out into the world, identical and unremarkable except where the damage caused by their individual histories imbues them with particularity, with character? “Trauma makes us individuals—singly and unambiguously—from the mass product,” Stepanova writes. Who would we be without hardship, if indeed we could be said to be? No idea, not that this was anyway a question for which he had anticipated an answer, he thought. “Memory works on behalf of separation,” Stepanova writes. “It prepares for the break without which the self cannot emerge.” Memory is an exercise of edges, he thought, and all we have are edges, the centre has no shape, there is only empty space. He thought of Alexander Sokurov’s film Russian Ark, and thought how it too piled detail upon detail to reduce the transmission—or to prevent the formation—of ideas about the past, the past piles more and more information upon us in the present, occluding itself in detail, veiling itself, reducing both our understanding and our ability to understand. Stepanova’s words pile up, her metaphors pile up, her sentences pile up, her words ostensibly offer meaning but actually withhold it, or ration it. Although In Memory of Memory is in most ways nothing like Russian Ark, he thought, why did he start this comparison, as with Russian ArkIn Memory of Memory is—entirely appropriately—both fascinating and boring, both too long and never quite reaching a point of satisfaction, the characters both recognisable and uncertain but in any case torn away, at least from us, the actions both deliberate and without any clear rationale or consequence—just like history itself. No residue. No thoughts. No realisations. No salient facts. No wisdom. The past drives us onward, pushes us outward as it inflates. 


Mrs Death Misses Death by Salina Godden            $33
"Salena Godden breathes new life into the well-worn subject of death. Using an antique desk as a conduit, harried East London writer Wolf Willeford communicates with Death herself, who appears in his flat, not as the foreboding and heavy-hooded reaper, but as an elderly, working-class black woman eager to talk about her work. Together they travel across time and space, swapping stories and mapping her memoirs in this unexpectedly comforting page-turner. It can be difficult to write about a subject like death without invoking platitudes that end up flattening a book. Godden’s writing bypasses tired adages, zooming in on specifics that become loaded and devastating, be it an abandoned pile of clothes on the shore, or the way in which “the most ordinary objects have value: a hair clip in an old make-up bag will take you back twenty years, you didn’t even wear it much, but once you did and there you are again”. Godden’s background as a poet and performer enriches this debut as she alternates between poetry and prose in telling Mrs Death’s stories. She has elegantly wrangled the energy of her work into a new medium. Where her prose is often frank and conversational, her poetry is sparse and raw. —Irish Times
"A modern-day Pilgrim’s Progress leavened with caustic wit." —Guardian
The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey             $30
"I am writing this account, in another man's book, by candlelight, inside the belly of a fish. I have been eaten. I have been eaten, yet I am living still." Drawing upon the Pinocchio story while creating something entirely his own, Carey tells an unforgettable tale of fatherly love and loss, pride and regret, and of the sustaining power of art and imagination, told from the point of view of Geppetto during the years he spent within the belly of a sea beast. 
"Art objects live in the belly of this marvellous novel, images swallowed by text, sustained by a sublime and loving imagination. Like all Edward Carey's work The Swallowed Man is profound and delightful. It is a strange and tender parable of two maddening obsessions; parenting and art-making." —Max Porter
"A beautiful and dark meditation on fatherhood, mercy, redemption and the alchemy of isolation. Strange, moving and musical, it's a delight." —A. L. Kennedy
Climate Aotearoa: What's happening and what we can do about it edited by Helen Clark         $37
Contributions from a range of climate scientists and commentators Rob Bell, Jason Boberg, Adelia Hallett, Sophie Handford, Rhys Jones, Haylee Koroi, Matt McGlone, Jamie Morton, Rod Oram, Jim Salinger, Kera Sherwood-O'Regan, Simon Thrush and Andrew Jeffs. Climate Aotearoa outlines the climate situation as it is now, and as it will be in the years to come. It describes the likely impact on the environment and on our day-to-day living situation. It suggests the changes you can make for maximum impact, what we should be asking of our government and what we should be asking of our business community. In doing so, this is a hopeful book—actions can make a difference.
>>"Time for action."
Life? or Theatre? by Charlotte Salomon, edited by Evelyn Benesch and Judith Belinfante              $80
When German artist Charlotte Salomon (1917 1943) handed her vast gouache series Life? or Theater? over to a friend, she beseeched him to "take good care of it, it is my entire life". A few months later, the five months pregnant Charlotte was picked up by a Gestapo truck, deported to Drancy, and then on to Auschwitz, where she died upon arrival at the age 26. Born of a family plagued by depression, the work is a cycle of nearly 1,300 autobiographical gouaches, combining creative force with pioneering personal narrative into one shattering graphic document of self expression unlike anything else. 
>>The most remarkable graphic memoir
The War of the Poor by Éric Vuillard             $25
The fight for equality begins in the streets. The history of inequality is a long and terrible one. The War of the Poor tells the story of a brutal episode from sixteenth-century Europe: the Protestant Reformation takes on the powerful and the privileged. Peasants, the poor living in towns, who are still being promised that equality will be granted to them in heaven, begin to ask themselves: and why not equality now, here on earth? There follows a violent struggle. Out of this chaos steps Thomas Müntzer: a complex and controversial figure, who sided with neither Martin Luther, nor the Roman Catholic Church. Müntzer addressed the poor directly, encouraging them to ask why a God who apparently loved the poor seemed to be on the side of the rich.
>>Short-listed for the 2021 International Booker Prize
When the Earth Had Two Moons: The lost history of the night sky by Erik Asphaug           $37
In 1959, the Soviet probe Luna 3 took the first photos of the far side of the moon. Even in their poor resolution, the images stunned scientists: the far side is an enormous mountainous expanse, not the vast lava-plains seen from Earth. Subsequent missions have confirmed this in much greater detail. How could this be, and what might it tell us about our own place in the universe? As it turns out, quite a lot. Fourteen billion years ago, the universe exploded into being, creating galaxies and stars. Planets formed out of the leftover dust and gas that coalesced into larger and larger bodies orbiting around each star. In a sort of heavenly survival of the fittest, planetary bodies smashed into each other until solar systems emerged. Curiously, instead of being relatively similar in terms of composition, the planets in our solar system, and the comets, asteroids, satellites and rings, are bewitchingly distinct. So, too, the halves of our moon. Planetary geologist Erik Asphaug takes us on an exhilarating tour through the farthest reaches of time and our galaxy to find out why.
Taxi: Journey through my windows, 1977—1987 by Joseph Rodriguez             $65
The photographs Rodriguez took in the decade he worked as a taxi driver in New York record the lesser-seen but deeply human aspects of the city, especially the life of the working class and the marginalised in all boroughs. 
The Outlaws Scarlett and Browne, Being an account of their daring exploits and audacious crimes by Jonathan Stroud          $22
New from the author of the wonderful 'Lockwood & Co' and 'Bartimaeus' series. England has been radically changed by a series of catastrophes – large cities have disappeared and London has been replaced by a lagoon. The surviving population exists in fortified towns where they cling to traditional ways, while strangely evolved beasts prowl the wilderness beyond. Conformity is rigidly enforced and those who fall foul of the rules are persecuted: some are killed, others are driven out into the wilds. Only a few fight back – and two of these outlaws, Scarlett McCain and Albert Browne, display an audacity and talent that makes them legends.
Eating with My Mouth Open by Sam van Zweden             $35
Sam van Zweden offers a millennial response to classic food writers, revelling in body positivity on Instagram, remembering how Tupperware piled high with sweets can be a symptom of spiralling mental health, dissecting wellness culture and all its flaws, sharing the joys of living in a family of chefs and seeing a history of migration on her dinner plate. 
Cathedral by Ben Hopkins            $40
The construction of a cathedral in the 12th and 13th centuries in the Rhineland town of Hagenburg unites a vast array of unforgettable characters whose fortunes are inseparable from the shifting political factions and economic interests vying for supremacy. From the bishop to his treasurer to local merchants and lowly stonecutters, everyone, even the town's Jewish denizens, is implicated and affected by the slow rise of Hagenburg's Cathedral, which in no way enforces morality or charity. Around this narrative center, Hopkins has constructed a novel that is rich with the vicissitudes of mercantilism, politics, religion, and human enterprise.
The Narrow Corridor: How nations struggle for liberty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson          $32
From the authors of Why Nations Fail, a big-picture framework that looks at how liberty flourishes in some states but falls to authoritarianism or anarchy in others—and explains how it can continue to thrive despite new threats.
Learning to Talk to Plants by Marta Orriols            $23
A novel about complex grief: a woman attempts to rebuild her life after her boyfriend leaves her for another women then dies hours later. Navigating the unsettled nature of her grief, obsessing over Mauro's infidelity and pursuing fraught affairs with a new colleague and a charismatic stranger, she struggles to make sense of her world anew.

In the Reign of King John: A year in the life of Plantagenet England by Dan Jones             $55
1215 is chiefly remembered for King John attaching his seal to Magna Carta in a quiet Thames-side water-meadow. But it was also a year of crusading and church reform, of foreign wars and dramatic sieges—a year in which London was stormed by angry barons and England invaded by a French army. As well as describing these upheavals, Jones introduces us to the ordinary people of thirteenth-century England—how and where they worked, what they wore, what they ate, and what role the church played in their lives.
Felt by Johanna Emeney           $25
Poems from the realm of the felt: couples in last-chance therapy, friends unfriending, racist trolls trawling the comments section for game. Poems on teaching, animals and how emotions and “the things that have hit me hard over the past decade” are felt in the body
The Ghosts are Family by Maisy Card               $35
Stanford Solomon's shocking, thirty-year-old secret is about to change the lives of everyone around him. Stanford has done something no one could ever imagine. He is a man who faked his own death and stole the identity of his best friend. Stanford Solomon is actually Abel Paisley. And now, nearing the end of his life, Stanford is about to meet his firstborn daughter, Irene Paisley, a home health aide who has unwittingly shown up for her first day of work to tend to the father she thought was dead. These Ghosts are Family revolves around the consequences of Abel's decision and tells the story of the Paisley family from colonial Jamaica to present-day Harlem. 
Ripe Figs: Recipes and stories from the eastern Meditierranean by Yasmin Khan          $59
Traveling by boat and land through Greece, Turkey and Cyprus, Yasmin Khan traces recipes that have spread from the time of Ottoman rule, to the influence of recent refugee communities. At the kitchen table, she explores what borders and identity mean in an interconnected world. Featuring more than 80 recipes that put vegetables centre stage and unite around thickets of dill and bunches of oregano, zesty citrus and sour pomegranates, sweet dates and soothing tahini.
"Food writing at its best, a moving and beautiful book." —Nigella Lawson
Rainbow Revolutionaries: 50 LGBTQ+ people who made history by Sarah Prager           $35
Illustrated biographies for the edification of the young. Includes Adam Rippon, Alan L. Hart, Alan Turing, Albert Cashier, Alberto Santos-Dumont, Alexander the Great, Al-Hakam II, Alvin Ailey, Bayard Rustin, Benjamin Banneker, Billie Jean King, Chevalier d'Éon, Christina of Sweden, Christine Jorgensen, Cleve Jones, Ellen DeGeneres, Francisco Manicongo, Frida Kahlo, Frieda Belinfante, Georgina Beyer, Gilbert Baker, Glenn Burke, Greta Garbo, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, José Sarria, Josephine Baker, Juana Inés de la Cruz, Julie d'Aubigny, Lili Elbe, Ma Rainey, Magnus Hirschfeld, Manvendra Singh Gohil, Marsha P. Johnson, Martine Rothblatt, Maryam Khatoon Molkara, Natalie Clifford Barney, Navtej Johar, Nzinga, Pauli Murray, Renée Richards, Rudolf Nureyev, Sally Ride, Simon Nkoli, Stormé DeLarverie, Sylvia Rivera, Tshepo Ricki Kgositau, Wen of Han, We'Wha.
Suggested Reading by Dave Connis          $23
Clara Evans is horrified when she discovers her principal's "prohibited media" hit list. The iconic books on the list have been pulled from the library and aren't allowed anywhere on the school's premises. Students caught with the contraband will be sternly punished. Many of these stories have changed Clara's life, so she's not going to sit back and watch—she's going to strike back. So Clara starts an underground library in her locker, doing a shady trade in titles like Speak and The Chocolate War. But when one of the books she loves most is connected to a tragedy she never saw coming, Clara's forced to face her role in it. YA. 

The Italian Deli Cookbook by Theo Randall            $55
100 delicious family recipes transforming favourite ingredients into superlative Italian delicatessen dishes. 

Summer Brother by Jaap Robben              $33
13-year-old Brian lives in a trailer on a forgotten patch of land with his divorced and uncaring father. His older brother Lucien, physically and mentally disabled, has been institutionalised for years. While Lucien’s home is undergoing renovations, he is sent to live with his father and younger brother for the summer. Their detached father leaves Brian to care for Lucien’s special needs. But how do you look after someone when you don’t know what they need? How do you make the right choices when you still have so much to discover?
Follow This Line by Laura Ljungkvist        $27
Starting on the front cover of this board book, the line zigs and zags across scenes both urban and pastoral, playfully spiraling into the shapes of animals, faces, buildings, vehicles and more, all without breaking its stride.